This is the 33rd book in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, but that doesn't mean those who are new to the series can't read it, too. In fact, I'd recommend this over the first book in the series.
Moist von Lipwig is a con man who has stolen a lot of money and gotten caught. Lord Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, gives him a choice between certain death and becoming Ankh-Morpork's new Postmaster. Moist understandably chooses the latter option.
Ankh-Morpork's Post Office used to be a well-oiled machine, reliable and respected. However, it has seen better days, and all previous efforts to build it back up to its former functioning glory have failed. The two remaining employees, Tolliver Groat and Stanley Howler, stick around pretty much because they have nowhere else to go and nowhere else they'd like to be. The Post Office itself is stuffed full of undelivered mail.
Although Moist is a criminal, he has never purposefully hurt anyone, and he's not really a bad person. The longer he works at the Post Office, the more he starts to enjoy his job. He hires anyone he can find to help deliver the mail. He invents stamps, which immediately become hugely popular. Things seem to be going well, until his rival, the guy who owns Ankh-Morpork's clacks (the Discworld's version of telegraphs), decides he's had enough of this new threat to his communications monopoly.
It's been a while since I read any Discworld books. I had forgotten how enjoyable and funny this series was, and Going Postal was an excellent reminder. This wasn't the first time I read it, but I read it long enough ago that I had forgotten most of it.
One of the things I loved about this book was that Pratchett was able to take something that, in our world, is ordinary (stamps) and make it a revolutionary new idea in the Discworld. Plus, Moist's idea for stamps came about in a natural way. He didn't suddenly think, “Well, we could get the bank back on track by selling little squares of paper. We'll call them 'stamps.'” He first learned how things worked at the Post Office, then questioned the way things had always been done. His previous experience as a forger gave him ideas for what he wanted the new stamps to be like, and he revised and expanded his ideas as he received input from various citizens. Instead of feeling tacked on, Discworld's new stamps felt like a natural and believable part of the world.
Moist is one of my favorite Discworld characters, even though I think he only appears in two books. I have a fondness for con men in fiction, probably because I enjoy seeing how their cleverest cons play out. Technically, Moist was himself in this book, rather than one of his many aliases, but he had to pretend to be a law-abiding and respectable Postmaster, even while he used his criminal knowledge to help save the Post Office. I enjoyed seeing how he made the Post Office functional again (getting back the letters on the building was worth a chuckle, and I loved how things progressed with the stamps), but I really loved it when Moist had to figure out how to stay on top in the face of extreme opposition. He didn't play by the rules, he didn't make things easy on himself (his habit of raising the stakes at all times, even when it was really stupid to do so, wouldn't let him), and yet he still didn't descend to his opponent's level.
Vetinari, one of my favorite recurring Discworld characters, also got a relatively minor but still very memorable role. Really, the man is probably the most appealing dictator ever, and, if Moist is awesome, Vetinari is leaps and bounds ahead of him. Nothing happens in Ankh-Morpork without Vetinari finding out about it and coming up with a course of action for dealing with it. Long-time readers of the series will also probably enjoy the references to Commander Vimes, Carrot, Angua, Death and more (but no Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, which I thought was a missed opportunity), although, as I said at the beginning of this post, newcomers to this series could read this book and not feel lost.
Although golems have appeared in other Discworld books (Feet of Clay is the first one that comes to my mind), I think this book goes into more detail about the way they think and how they work to free themselves than any of the other books have done. For the most part, I found these very non-human beings fascinating. I did think that Mr. Pump's farewell to Moist was a bit out of character, though, and not very fitting with the way golems were supposed to act and think.
Overall, I really liked this book, and I'd recommend it. For those who are leery of over-the-top humor, I thought that Going Postal was more restrained in that area than some of Pratchett's other books. This book is mostly about a con man's attempts to build a failing government service back up in the face of criminal opposition. There are some strange bits (wizards taking early death, golems, a strange machine in the Postal Office, pin collecting, etc.), but the world still feels like it's at least following a logic of its own.
If you're waffling between the print book version and the audio book, I'd say, “Go with whatever format you prefer.” Reading the print book is nice, but the audio book is also a good experience. Stephen Briggs is wonderful, and I'd happily listen to him read the entire series. The only complaint I might have is that, because of Briggs' voice, I didn't realize how young Moist was (25) until his age was mentioned. Then again, I think I also assumed he was older when I read the print book, so maybe that's not Briggs' fault.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Spice & Wolf (anime TV series) - This might be another good one to try if you'd like something else starring really clever, crafty characters. As in Going Postal, there are fantasy and romance elements, as well. I've written about both the first and second seasons of this series, as well as one of the original books.
- Terry Pratchett's Going Postal (live action TV series) - I almost hyperventilated when I found out that this book had been adapted into a TV series (minseries?). I have no idea what it's like, but I hope to find out.
- American Gods (book) by Neil Gaiman - This book is much darker in tone than Going Postal, but those who'd like something else featuring a con man and fantasy might want to try this. Shadow has recently been released from prison, only to learn that his wife is dead and cheated on him with his best friend. Shadow ends up on a journey that has him crossing paths with old and new gods and learning things about himself that he would never even have guessed at.
- Another Fine Myth (book) by Robert Aspirin - Skeeve aspires to be a magician, primarily so that he can become a better thief - after all, what good is learning magic if you can't profit from your knowledge? Skeeve's master falls over dead after conjuring up a demon named Aahz who has lost his powers. Skeeve and Aahz work together to find the assassin who killed Skeeve's master and hopefully get revenge. It's been ages since I read any of Aspirin's books, but I remember the humor being even more off-the-wall than anything in Pratchett's books.